Jul 15, 2009 7:12pm
Here Comes Sunshine - one deadhead's top 10
I love Here Comes Sunshine as it was performed in the early days. It was a platform for some jaw-dropping jams. I've always wanted to hear every last version, to track the development of the song and search for "under the radar" performances.
With the help of the Archive, this was no problem! The Dead played 34 versions between 2/9/73 and 2/23/74. 31 of those circulate, in whole or in part. I recently listened to every minute, taking notes as I listened. The song grew with almost every performance; most the best versions are towards the end of the run, though almost all of them are worth hearing. Without further ado, here's my list of special versions not to be missed.
#1 - December 19, 1973
Curtis Hixon Convention Hall, Tampa (14:12)
The finest version of all. Excellent mix - everyone’s perfectly audible. This starts with probably the best intro and verse performance, crisp and on beat. Bob provides excellent flourishes. Into the jam, Billy’s laying down lots of cymbal work, setting up a divine melting jazz groove. Keith takes over intermittently, pounding electric chords. Bob’s scattershot, casting about. Phil bubbles. Feet are tapping, heads nodding. Jerry picks it up. Bob cranks up the flange and slowly brings in the transition, over which Phil stomps and Keith sprinkles fairy dust. Phil drops a hint. Billy and Keith open the hatch, and we enter free fall. The groove is THICK. Jerry is at full speed, challenging the rest to keep up. Everything Garcia is playing just works, beauty in every run of notes, sounding rehearsed but too vital to be anything but spontaneous. Building up, we think Garcia’s reached a melodic peak but he and Bob know better. Tied together in thought and impulse, Bob throws ringing chords backing the most furious solo from Jerry yet. A brief burst of inspiration to rival anything in his life’s output. Reaching the conclusion, Jerry brings in a final movement to finish the symphony that is this second jam. Complete thematic unity. A masterpiece. Jam #3 is telepathic, beautiful. Phil throbs, Bobby steps out, and again Jerry rises from the middle. A heavy sound, executed with the utmost lightness. Keith channels Monk, reprising his contribution to the final jam on 11/30. They stutter into the final chorus.
#2 - February 23, 1974
Winterland Arena, San Francisco (11:22)
An astounding, potent summation of all that came before. A fat, juicy, nearly flawless intro, taken at a slightly slower tempo. It’s a joy to hear them throw bolts of sound around the hall on each beat. Billy’s on fire; Bobby’s never had a warmer tone. The energy is incredibly high, especially as the first jam progresses, but somehow they avoid stepping on each other. The transition arrives. Keith rakes the keys, setting up a tremendous Phil bomb, and Jerry dances and spins away, back outside to play. He sacrifices a bit of technical precision to play all-out, presenting his vision, channeling his energy. A distinctive new riff, and Bobby picks it up and jams until we’re back into the verse. Two short jams, compared with the recent versions, but they surge unstoppably, without a dull moment. Why stop to breathe? Final jam. Jerry adopts a fingerpickin’ sound, which Bob is only too happy to twist around. Phil plays high and low. The energy peaks again, and the music takes on an elastic tone, pushing and pulling towards the final chorus and resolution.
#3 - December 6, 1973
Cleveland Convention Center (15:40)
A creative, exploratory version led by Garcia on top of his game. The intro gains power right at its conclusion, and we’re off. Keith and Bob, perched at either end, open up a wide space in the center, a vacuum filled by Jerry on top of Phil. Jerry’s tone is clear, biting, insistent. Without revving up the power, the band explores a bubbly groove, a platform for Jerry’s visions. After several minutes, a short standard transition. Jerry’s again pushing boundaries, uncertainly at first, then lands on a new melody, perhaps Nobody’s Fault But Mine. It fits perfectly. Emboldened, the band strengthens the beat, raises the tempo. What a spacy jam – to walk in the room now you’d think it was Playin’. Jerry brings us back to the melody, distortedly, and cues the verse. Laid back, measured, firing on all cylinders. Third jam is a repetitive riff, until Billy brings a true double-time. Jerry lays down a quick blues, and soon we’re called back. A wretched AUD patch brings us home.
#4 - November 30, 1973
Boston Music Hall (11:37)
Standard intro. As the jam begins, Keith’s counterpoint stands out – quiet reflections and well-chosen jazz chords. Waves of tone from Phil. Jerry plays a standard solo. A groove emerges and dissolves into Phil. Phil dominates through the transition, which is stretched out to give him space to continue his rumbling improvisation. Bob and Phil snap into a groove, and the jam is back underway. The band scatters out, covering all the terrain this song can reach. Meanwhile, Jerry plays the scales, settling on a lyrical melody for the band to coalesce around. As if of a single mind, on a dime the full band merges into a single powerhouse beast, milking this new groove for all its worth. Rumbling Phil, shredding Jerry, everyone pounding, banging away. The crescendo we all knew was there, waiting to be stumbled upon. The finest moment yet. Third jam; Keith shows us all the depth of his vision, playing bizarre chords that somehow get to the heart of this rendition. Jerry amps it up, going for the jugular once more time. A bit more shredding and we’re out.
#5 - November 17, 1973
Pauley Pavilion, UCLA (11:15)
A mind-melter from start to finish. Another crisp first few minutes, nearly as perfect as 11/9. Jerry comes out firing for the first jam, tossing out his best solo so far, reaching deep into his bag of tricks to drive the music. Phil keeps up the energy during the transition. Jam #2 brings energetic contributions from everyone in the band, eventually building to a powerful crescendo. Rock and roll. Turn in the third jam, a slight hiccup that doesn’t throw off the pace. Ringing melody, Keith tinkling the keys, Phil thundering underneath, the guitars cutting back and forth, holding it together, powering into the final verse.
#6 - November 21, 1973
Denver Coliseum (10:42)
This is a unique performance. A sharp opening, followed by Jerry launching the improvisation with a novel three-note pattern derived from Bobby’s parallel riff. This heralds a unique first jam, shorter than recent versions but featuring new directions from Jerry. Everyone else plays it off perfectly. A funky-type beat. A short standard transition leads into the second jam. Minimalist distorted chording from Jerry, with emphasis from Keith. Bobby’s chords are low-level electric shock, but not so angular as to cause pain. Jerry wields an abstract artist’s paintbrush, intent on disassembling the song down to its basics – essential chords, pieces of chords. Phil steals the final jam, dancing about, playing jazz.
#7 - November 9, 1973
Winterland Arena, San Francisco (10:39)
This is a breakthrough, the first fully formed version to compare with those that follow. It’s a mellow rendition, more notable for its crispness and focus than for energy or pyrotechnics. Early verses executed perfectly, right on rhythm, leisurely pace. First jam is a soothing massage. Bob stands out. They ride the rhythm into the second jam. Jerry holds back, but eventually Bob strikes some furious chords. The band absorbs the energy, riffing on the beat. The final jam is melty. Bob dances about, Jerry pounds distorted riffs, the band swells, and descends back home.
#8 - April 2, 1973
Boston Garden (9:45?)
HCS > Space > Bobby McGee. This is the one to hear from the winter/spring (honorable mentions: #1 3/24, #2 2/17, #3 3/22). Band is clearly on, though the first verses are a bit sloppy. The energetic first jam more than makes up for it; it’s rhythm-heavy, full of confident Bob chords, Phil bubbling under, well-chosen counterpoint from Keith. It has some of the feel of a late ’73 jam. The transition is more intricate than we’ve seen, carrying into the second jam, which is much more developed than previous versions. Strong verses propel us into the third jam without slowing for a beat. Jerry’s solo soon takes a turn for the spacy. He pauses to contemplate. Keith follows, the band slows, Billy lays down the jazz. By 9:30 we’re breaking loose; some seconds later, the rhythm is a different animal, then gone completely. We’ve drifted into a reflective jazz space. Flavors of the Other One. A hint of Baroque dissonance as we approach 13:00. Fear and apprehension build. Keith shudders his way through the murk; Jerry attacks head on. Insect fear. How did we get here? No true release, just tension, then gradual dissipation, then Bobby McGee. The band has woven HCS into the fabric of their essence.
#9 - September 7, 1973
Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y. (10:27)
The band is on tonight. Bob and Jerry combine to provide that slinky downbeat during the first verse; Keith adds creative Fender fills. Jerry explores a descending pattern in the first jam, twisting and spinning around the melody. He flirts with diving deep beneath the melody but pulls back into the transition. Second jam flows and sparkles; jazz chords from Keith. A repeating descent from Jerry in jam #3. The band coalesces, building to a brief peak of energy around him, but quickly giving it over to the closing chorus. Keith and Jerry shine.
#10 - June 26, 1973
Seattle Center Coliseum (11:40)
This version is in much the same vein as the immediately preceding renditions (5/26, 6/10, 6/22) but is probably the most compelling among that bunch. The SBD is fuzzy, but the mix is even. I like the AUD better. Nice downbeat during the early verses. First jam starts off well, nothing special – then halfway in, Billy lays down a jazz-funk beat and the band latches on, pounding away with distorted riffs, slicing on and around the beat. Transition is quiet and short; the band is eager to jam. Energetic second jam; dueling lead guitars. Long third jam is pleasing but hews close to the melody, maintaining the mind-melt but not quite reaching the heights of the first two jams.
2/17/73 (7:33) St. Paul Auditorium (HCS > China > Rider)
3/24/73 (8:19) The Spectrum, Philadelphia
5/26/73 (10:35) Kezar Stadium, S.F.
6/10/73 (10:32) R.F.K. Stadium, Washington
9/21/73 (10:42) The Spectrum, Philadelphia
10/30/73 (11:26) Kiel Auditorium, St. Louis